Supreme Court Argues Twitter Liability in Terror Case

This week, the Supreme Court heard Oral Arguments in two cases regarding the liability of internet providers for user posts: Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google. The former case was brought by family members of Nawras Alassaf, who was killed in an Islamic State attack in 2017, and the latter by family members of Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Both cases hinge on the scope of the Antiterrorism Act and the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which allow victims of terrorist attacks to seek compensation from sponsors of international terrorism and entities that "aid and abet" terrorism. The focus in Gonzalez v. Google is the law known as Section 230, which has been called the backbone of the internet because it generally protects platforms from liability for content posted by third parties.

Lawyers for Google, Twitter and Facebook argued that they have made extensive efforts to remove Islamic State content and that there is no direct causal link between the websites and the attacks. Twitter attorney Seth Waxman said that the social-media platform wasn’t used to organize the Istanbul attack, and that Twitter "maintained and regularly enforced policies prohibiting content that promotes terrorist activity." Attorney Eric Schnapper, representing the Alassaf and Gonzalez families, said that Twitter should be held liable because of its "willful blindness" toward Islamic State content.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor responded to this argument by questioning whether Twitter had "provided a platform" that Islamic State "used to recruit people and help arrange other terrorist attacks." Meanwhile, in Tuesday’s argument, Supreme Court justices reacted skeptically to claims that YouTube parent Google LLC could be sued for algorithms that automatically recommended extremist recruiting videos, with Justice Clarence Thomas comparing it to holding a phone company liable for helping someone contact the leader of Islamic State. Decisions in both cases are expected before July.


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